A short history of the high heel

Posted November 13, 2017 09:00:00

It’s a dilemma many women face when they go out — do they want to elongate their legs by wearing high heeled shoes for an event, or still be able to feel their feet at the end of the night?

After events like the Spring Racing Carnival, it is common to see many women abandon their shoes and limp home barefoot.

And while men are perceived to be well turned out at any event in flat shoes, the high heel trend, believe it or not, began with them.

“The origins of the heel relates to horse riding and warriors and the ability to hold tight to the saddle,” podiatrist and shoe historian Cameron Kippen told ABC Radio Perth

“Subsequently you had these macho men swaggering about in boots with heels, but they very quickly became fashionable for rich courtiers and kings in particular.”

The first recorded instance of a high heeled shoe being worn by a woman was by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century.

She was about 150 centimetres tall and it is said she wanted to appear taller at her wedding.

Up until that time, women had been wearing platform shoes, some as high as 60 centimetres, in 16th century Europe.

“Platforms predate heeled shoes, but because many women would fall over their platforms, and pregnant women would miscarry, they had to be legislated against,” Mr Kippen said.

“Shoemakers realised they could give women height but they needed to make them safer, so they carved out the front of the platform and created a high heel which was biomechanically more sound than platforms.”

During the reign of King Louis XIV of France, some 200 years later, wearing heels really began to take off — but again, among men.

“After de Medici died, that was the end of heeled shoes for women in terms of fashion,” Mr Kippen said.

“Women started to wear lower heels, but men liked this idea of towering above everyone else — and no one more than Louis XIV, who of course gave his name to an actual heel itself.

“He would parade around with very tight fitting high heeled shoes, very highly decorated.

“His critical badge of honour was a red heel, and he wouldn’t allow anybody else in the French court to wear them.”

Heels in the French court at Versailles were an important status symbol and restricted to the nobility.

“Wearing heels without permission — you would lose your head, literally,” Mr Kippen said.

“In those days there were fewer people wanting to be fashionable.

“Ordinary people would go about their business with no trouble at all, whereas it was the courtiers and those that had privilege and money that would want to outdo each other.

“Therefore, trying to emulate the royal family in whatever country you were in was something that was governed against.”

The right to wear heels eventually extended to the general population, but they remained chunky until after the end of World War II.

“We had to fight two world wars to have the technology to be able to make a stiletto heel,” Mr Kippen said.

“The secret of the stiletto heel was a small piece of metal which joined the inside of the shoes sufficiently that the heel and foot of the shoe could operate separately. It could actually bend and twist.

“It’s known as a shank.

“Once a shoe designer managed to work that out, then heels became more like what we see today.

“In the past heels were more like arch supports. They sat much closer to the middle of the foot, whereas now they can sit right at the end of the shoe.”

Initially, the creation of the stiletto heel was a cause of great consternation.

“In all the ballrooms at the time, the owners were very much concerned,” Mr Kippen said.

“These new stiletto heels could actually bore a hole in the floor.

“There was much warning and health foreboding about the things that would happen if you wore stiletto heels.”

Blisters aside, Mr Kippen said there was little evidence that high heeled shoes caused long-term health problems for wearers.

“We have lived half a century past that time and there is no evidence to show that people who wear these for a prolonged period would have foot or back problems at all,” he said.

Topics: fashion, history, women, perth-6000

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The science behind Flinders Street Station’s new look

Posted November 10, 2017 13:38:10

The scaffolding is slowing coming off Flinders Street Station, revealing the Melbourne icon’s brand new colours.

Or should we say old colours? After all, the repaint is designed to be as close as possible to the station’s first paint job from 1910.

But how do we know what colours the station was painted in if all the photos of it are in black and white?

Science, that’s how.

Layers ‘like a liquorice allsort’

The architects in charge of the station’s refurbishment, Lovell Chen, determined from newspaper records that Flinders Street Station had been repainted at least five times.

Melbourne University’s Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation was tasked with determining the historic station’s original colour scheme.

Grimwade Centre’s senior paintings conservator Cushla Hill said the architects provided them with at least 20 samples of paint chipped from walls throughout the station.

“We embed that chipped paint into a polyester resin tube and then we cut into it,” she said.

Cutting across the paint chip allowed the conservators to examine the layers of paint using a powerful microscope.

“It’s like a liquorice allsort. You can work down through the layers to the original layer,” Ms Hill said.

“The original layer was a more subdued beigey yellow colour, which is what has been reinstated.”

Project director Graeme Kay said the team believed the colours “are as close as we could possibly get”.

He told ABC Radio Melbourne‘s Rafael Epstein that the more subdued yellow was used by the original painters in an effort to replicate the look of sandstone.

“The red is a much more vibrant red,” he said of the restoration.

‘Ray gun’ detects elements

The Grimwade Centre was able to find out more about the type of pigment the century-old paint contained by using a technique called X-ray fluorescence, or XRF.

“The XRF is like a ray gun that you just point at the sample,” Ms Hill said.

“It’s a non-destructive technique … that will detect the elements in that sample.”

The XRF detected chromium in the original green paint used for the station’s trimmings, which suggests the paint was a chromium green oxide.

Topics: painting, architecture, design, history, science-and-technology, melbourne-3000

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